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ABSTRACT

In order to discuss the notion of presence, I explore Fascist Italy as an example of a presence-based culture. In the first part of this paper, I focus on the doctrines of “the philosopher of fascism,” Giovanni Gentile (1875–1944), in order to show that his programme of cultural awakening revolves around the notion of the “presentification of the past.” This notion formed the basis of Gentile's dialectic of the act of thought, which is the kernel of his actual idealism, or actualism. I argue that actualism should primarily be interpreted as an ontology of a historical reality; it expresses the view that reality is history. In his 1914 inaugural “L'esperienza pura e la realtà storica” (Pure Experience and Historical Reality), Gentile drew this view to its ultimate consequence by developing a view of experience that has some striking parallels with the contemporary views of presence as expounded by Gumbrecht, Runia, and Ankermit. In the second part of my paper, I discuss how Gentile and his collaborators put presence into practice in school reforms, the Enciclopedia Italiana, and in hundreds of monuments, memorials, and exhibitions. Finally, I discuss the 1932 Mostra della rivoluzione fascista, which was not only the apex of fascist culture politics, but also of the practice of presence. In this context, I argue that this practice should not be seen as a politics of historical interpretation, as Hayden White once held, but as a politics of sublime historical experience, or presence. The presence of presence in fascist political culture raises some difficult questions for all who embrace the new paradigm, questions that can only be answered if the notion of presence is somehow balanced by the critical historical method, which is the basis for a true dialogue with the past.